Site MASS MoCA, North Adams, MA | Program I am Searching for Field Character | With Ross Caliendo, Nick Gotthardt, Kirk Hiatt, Abigail Downs, Andrew Barringer, Maritt Vaessin
Elegantly Wasted is a platform for testing new theories about urban ecology. This novel aesthetic approach to landscape form and process draws from punk rock, civil engineering, fashion, and contemporary art. The Ecological Prosthesis leverages the surplus dimensions of the Hoosic River floodway in North Adams, Massachusetts. The prosthetic is comprised of armatures —both hard and soft—that support the self-organization of a novel, third ecosystem insinuated within the floodway channel. The ruderal armatures are sacrificial: designed to fail in a catastrophic water event, and will biodegrade if swept downstream.
North Adams, once an industrial center in New England is a former manufacturing city that is being re-tooled for the 21st century. Now the center of culture and tourism for the Northern Berkshire region, the city’s mills have been re-purposed for cultural uses, such as the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, as well as artist lofts and light manufacturing. However, the urban fabric and green infrastructure of the city remains fragmented and dysfunctional. The Hoosic is a troubled river. Channelized in the early 20th century to prevent flooding the city and its mills, the Hoosic is currently a dead zone in the city. The profile of the channel is foreboding: comprised of a confection of damaged chain link fences and rusting guardrails, it resembles an open sewer. Aside from flood control, the river provides no social, ecological or cultural benefits to the citizen or visitors to the city.
Taking the channelized river as an objet trouvé, I examined ways to retrofit a single-use, pragmatic, engineered structure with a multiplicity of social, ecological and material possibilities. The proposal brings life back river by physically reconnecting the city and retrofitting the channel with an ecological prosthesis while simultaneously preserving the channel’s flood control utility.
Elegantly Wasted was a component of I Am Searching for Field Character, a series of public, performances, installations, workshops with a slew of artists, writers, designers and thinkers visiting North Adams curated by James Voorhies of Bureau for Open Culture. Elegant’s summer program engaged social aspects of the river and featured a lemonade stand and picnic, a Ditch-In Theatre night featuring films about water infrastructure, and public tour of the Monuments of the Hoosic and a field guide.
BEAVER REPATRIATION PARADE
Beaver that wander into the floodway and become stranded must be trapped and relocated by the Department of Fish and Game. Temperatures in the channel are too hot for trout due to a lack of riparian shade. The ecological prosthesis addresses these impediments to travel for a host of species. To draw attention to the plight of these species, Nick Gotthardt, Andrew Barringer and walked the length of the channel as dressed as bears, beaver and trout. .